EAST LANSING, Mich. — The question entering Monday’s basketball game here was how Iowa would respond to its first loss of the season.
The question leaving the Breslin Center was how the No. 19 Hawkeyes will regroup after their first blowout loss. This one was bad for the psyche.
Tenth-ranked Michigan State, as it has done so many times before, put the hammer down on the Hawkeyes with a 90-68 win that was far more convincing than that score sounds. Iowa hast lost 12 of its past 14 meetings with the Spartans.
Michigan State scored its opening basket when Kenny Goins was left alone along the baseline against a Hawkeye zone defense that never put up a fight. Goins made the layup.
The tone was set.
Nick Ward had his way with Iowa all night, making all 10 of his shots to finish with 26 points.
Michigan State was enjoying so much success inside that it rarely needed to even contemplate taking 3-point shots. The Spartans made only three.
Things got so bad in the second half for Iowa that players kept retreating to the bench for medical attention. The big blow may have come when freshman forward Joe Wieskamp appeared to roll his right ankle midway through the second half and limped to the locker room. He did not return to the bench.
Iowa (6-2, 0-2 Big Ten Conference) built a 13-7 lead in the first 3 minutes, 36 seconds. Jordan Bohannon nailed a 3-pointer. Isaiah Moss added one of his own. Wieskamp glided in from the weak side for a putback basket and a foul.
But none of that success was present again for the Hawkeyes in the first half. Those early 3s were the only ones that fell. The Spartans took control of the glass.
Iowa got into foul trouble, forcing starting center Luka Garza to the bench. Backup point guard Connor McCaffery suffered the same fate. Backups Ryan Kriener and Nicholas Baer also were whistled for two fouls apiece, although Kriener did return to play before intermission.
Michigan State (7-2, 2-0) made the Hawkeyes pay at every turn. Ward made all six of his shots, all from close range, in the first half and had 15 points. Xavier Tillman came off the bench to add eight, including back-to-back postups over the 6-foot-6 Wieskamp when the Hawkeyes were trying to make up ground with a small lineup.
The Spartans outscored Iowa 26-14 in the paint in the first half and led 43-33 at halftime.
Somehow, things got dramatically worse for the Hawkeyes out of the break. They missed 15 of their first 16 shot attempts in the second half, while the Spartans pushed them all over the court.
Iowa was playing its only true road game of the opening two months of the season, and it looked like a shadow of the team that went into Madison Square Garden 2½ weeks ago and knocked off Oregon and Connecticut to win the 2K Classic tournament.
The rematch with Michigan State comes Jan. 24 in Iowa City.
But there’s a much bigger game in Carver-Hawkeye Arena this week. Iowa lost at home 72-66 to Wisconsin on Friday. That was a competitive game.
Monday’s was anything but. And Iowa State is next on Iowa’s slate, at 7 p.m. Thursday.
Whatever befell the Hawkeyes on Monday must be eradicated by the time that one tips off. Or a two-game losing streak will quickly become three.